Friend: An Indie Author’s Vocabulary Starts and Ends On The Word

Thoughts Inspired on a Super-Bowl Sunday


Alternatively, the word would be Loyalty.

Am I wrong in declaring that about every independent author or small/self-publisher out there secretly longs to become a breakout success?  Not so secret.  Of course, we’re not all money-grubbing, would-be capitalist dragons dreaming upon treasure hoards.  Most of us are humanists, in one way or another.  But if we were to enjoy commercial fame, sell a lot of books, do the talk-show circuits, get reviewed and lauded in The New York Times, nominated for prestigious awards, and the rest, well. . .rewards vary.  A lot of us would simply like the financial freedom to write, full-time, without the drudgery of either having to support ourselves with a ten-hour-a-day-job, or having to network and promote for the better part of the writing-day.  Others could sure use the dough, to buy better houses, computers, and cars, or to get out of debt for ones already bought.

Whatever the motivation, the plain fact is that. . .most of us are not going there.  Most of us will live our lives continuing to work, write, revise, format, publish, network, and (hopefully) supplement our incomes as a modest, partial reward for daring to share ideas with other human beings, making our voices articulate among a 21st-century sea of overwhelming images, and dreaming well into adulthood, after others have stopped.

Agree with me?  I know, it’s a bittersweet vision.  Read on.

Given this dose of reality, what sense does it make, then, to continue to act like one of the mindless drones who actually subscribe to the slogan of the NYS Lottery: “Hey, it could happen“?  Groan.  This type of rubbish, preying on the hopes of normally sane people, has probably killed more human potential in our culture than War.

If you’ve made the decision to publish independently of the traditional commerical establishment (no matter what it is calling itself at the moment–you work, they take the profit, bottom line,) then Congratulations!  You’ve done a brave thing.  Don’t betray your own courage by then proceeding, out of ignorance, cowardice, or greed, to act as if you were still a slave.

Here’s what I mean: You won’t make it five steps, alone.  You’re going to need pals.  A lot of ’em (though not as many as you might think.  One good one is worth a hundred others.)  You’re going to be saying, “Buy my book” quite often, naturally, but at some point you’re going to have to give some away, and you’re going to have to buy others.  And if you want to get reviews, you need to write reviews for others.  If you want a manuscript critiqued, a blog post shared and tweeted, an endorsement, an introduction, an interview, a guest post, and so on–you’ll be repaying, in kind.  Not that every single event needs to be quid pro quo with every person, but you’ll at least be paying it forward to someone who needs it, the way you once did, before you moved on.

This is the beginning of a crusade well beyond whatever Facebook definition of “friend” your fifteen-year-old has.  Because you’re going to discover, as you go, that there are real, flesh-and-blood people behind those avatars.  This is a good thing–and exactly the reason you retreated from the monolithic, exclusionary moat-and-wall that surrounds the castle of commercial publishing.  You wanted to touch other people.  Well, they’re here on the ground, bleeding shoulder-to-shoulder with you, not up there on the ramparts.  And as you do rub elbows with your brothers and sisters-in-arms, you’re going to see that some of them are worth, as Shakespeare said, “grappling to thy heart with hoops of steel.” And others, not.

Let me offer one concrete example, among a legion.  I always hear about folks buying up domain names (this is like buying insurance on a blackjack bet,) in case you get famous.  Well, you wouldn’t want someone cashing in on your name, right?–and the first thing you’re gonna do, when you hit big time, is ditch that free WordPress host/domain, right?  Amplified groan.  I don’t expect everyone to agree, here, but consider what you’re doing.  Abandoning friends at the first sign of non-trouble. I personally have been running a blog at WordPress for eight months, and they’ve never asked me for a dime.  Never littered my site with ads, never annoyed my visitors with pop-ups.  ‘Cuz that’s what commercial entities do.  You know, there are things I wish WordPress would do better, and I suppose if I do enjoy a lot of traffic one day, I’ll pay them the mite they want for upgrades.  Hell, at this point I would pay without the upgrades, if they said they needed it to stay afloat–because, even though we don’t share text messages and swap cute animal pictures, I know there are still friends of mine, over at WordPress.  They’ve treated me well, and I’m gonna treat them well.  You can go all cynical and say, “Well, StJean, you dummy, they don’t care about you.  They make money off you whether you know it or not.”  If they do, I say, good. They’d better.  But even in business, there is such a thing as loyalty.  This is not The Godfather, in which “business” is a euphemism directly preceding back-stabbing (or garroting).

Now, if I’m not going to turn on an entity like WordPress, which doesn’t even have a human face, I’m damned sure not going to use and discard real people who’ve aided me, or at least wished me well.  (I can hear everyone out there saying “Neither would I!”  But you may not have thought it fully through.)

I’m taking about competition vs. cooperation.  When you compete with someone, you’re by definition trying to take their share for yourself.  No way around it, be it a title, a trophy, a dollar, or a slice of pizza.  And you might say, “we’re all competing,” but that’s not really true.  Only in the sense that every member of an army or sports team competes–some get medals, records, or payment for personal achievement, true, others remain obscure.  But still, a win for one is a win for the team.  When you cooperate, everyone cedes a bit of his personal share for the greater success of the whole–and this can be far greater than the sum of its parts.

Amazon knows this (not to target them gratuitously, but they are a pertinent example.)  They know that every author they sign into KDP Select, no matter how big a hack and how few books they sell, is one more author cooperating with them, by legally agreeing not to compete against them.  However, when that same author goes Kobo, ITunes, Smashwords, Google Play, Barnes and Noble, or some smaller outfit, maybe even just sells on Ebay and from a blog, then that’s one tiny step toward breaking the monopoly.  AND, when these little guys start teaming up, then you have a whole league (which is the way both capitalism and democracy are supposed to work,) of teams, with more-or-less equal viability in the forum/marketplace.  Competition continues, but it’s healthy, because everyone has a real chance.

Somewhere there, I shifted metaphors, away from the medieval and violent.  The cost of competition should not be measured in broken and severed limbs.  So, Sports.  A lot of intellectuals look down on sports fans–not without reason, at times–but even the drunken, body-painted clown standing up and obstructing your view knows one thing, for sure–he’s chosen his team, and he’s loyal to it through thick and thin, whether they win it all, or go winless that season.  ‘Cuz there’s another inning, another quarter, half, game, series, and season coming.  That’s why they play the games–you really never do know what the future holds–and the victories are much sweeter for the adversity that came before, and for the folks you’ve shared it with.

You and your girlfriend may both write Suspense-Thrillers or Romance novels, may both have gotten your M.A.s in the same grad program, have been up for the same scholarships, and are now eyeing the same prizes as surely as that Amazon ranking taunts you both.  But you’ve both been called up to the Show, now.  The big leagues.  Believe me, put your back to hers, and find others with the same colors.  Pros know, they’re going to be coming at you from all sides.

Assemble your team.  Make flags, design logos, sew uniforms if you have to–but much more, research and recruit the players (the best ones are not always the snazziest, loudest-talking, biggest chest-bumping, highest high-fiving either,) hire the coaches (the best ones don’t always already have high-profile jobs,) build the stadium (not always the newest, biggest, or best-located,) and run the game.  And don’t be a fair-weather fan–they need you when it’s raining and snowing, more than ever.  And you definitely need them.ImageImage

Tomorrow–The Truth About the Original “UnDead”. . .


Are vampires “real”?  More so than you may think. . .

The Life You Save May Be Your Own: Imbroglio, by Alana Woods. Book Review by Shawn StJean


Book Review by Shawn StJean

If the title of my review seems far less original than that of the novel it explores, that’s because there are some clichés that well-earn their familiarity.  For example, if overheard conversations, mistaken and assumed identity, and misdirected letters (nowadays more prevalent as lost or stolen e-mail correspondence and hacked computer files) are not fresh enough for your taste in fiction, then the entire suspense/thriller genre probably isn’t either.  Alana Woods deploys them all–there’s even a diary–but recombination is everything.


Far more compelling than these stock conventions are the book’s two main characters, David Cameron (you may need a pen handy to keep track of his several aliases,) but more especially Noel Valentine, a heroine worthy of a series–though Woods doesn’t appear to be setting us up for one.  Among all of fiction’s many self-made detectives, few are given a motive for their investigations–which lead them into all manner of professional and personal hazard–more credible than simple money.  The universal catalyst, serviceable for everyone from Sam Spade to Jim Rockford.  Oh, other reasons have been invented among the better writers: egomania for Sherlock Holmes, or the occasional impressment into service (Rick Deckard.)  Woods’ David, like Hamlet, was bequeathed the task by his dead father.  Good thing for audiences, too–for it doesn’t always wash, that the motives of those seeking truth are the identical ones held by those seeking to cover it up.


For Noel Valentine, the impetus necessary for the pursuit of semi-comatose David’s nearly successful assassins, leading to discovery of several convolutions of corporate wrongdoing, surfaces from the depths of her very plausible, damaged psychology.  “Why not go to the police?,” she’s asked at several points, and the answer simply lies outside the realm of logic and reason. 


Sure, she wants to ensure the man she dragged from a fiery car wreck heals, she wants a prestigious account at her PR firm, she wants the perks of her boss’ favor.  It all makes sense, yet none of it is really accurate.  In fact, one of the latent enjoyments of the novel is witnessing how many different misogynistic interpretations of her behavior can be put upon Noel by the old boys’ network, projecting their own malfeasance onto a vulnerable target.  “If there’s one thing I hate, it’s a dirty, double-crossing dame,” says one of the villains of the Hollywood noir classic The Killers, and apparently little has changed in three-quarters of a century.  Woods’ heroine must also endure multiple layers of claustrophobic pressure: from the confines of her tiny flat invaded by her healing counterpart, to sexual pressure from her boss and a nefarious client, and finally to the crushing depths of the sea itself.


No, for Noel, investigation is first about living dangerously–perhaps subconsciously attempting to carry out a long-time suicide wish of her own–and later, about simply living.  In fact, when the bad guys provide her with the perfect opportunity to slip quietly into that good night, guiltlessly in the world’s eyes and her own, it’s only then can she recover the id-energy to carry on and survive that her efforts on David’s behalf have been attempting to revivify all along.  That scene of crucible is worth the price of admission alone, straying so far as it does from the strictures of the genre, and invoking naturalistic archetypes from more high-brow literary fiction like Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, and even some Hemingway.


What difficulties there are can be faced down within the first half of the novel, which gathers much steam afterward–though thankfully eschewing many of the predictable action-elements we may expect (no car chases, and just a little obligatory gunplay.)  Sex, naturally, plays its role, though not overdone.  Woods provides several of her majors with fully stocked families, and various minor characters fill out the cast, necessitating full attention to relationships.  As for the geography, the locales of Cairns and Sydney, while well-described, may feel less familiar to non-Australian readers than we’d like.  However, it’s exactly this transportation of time, place, and generally stretching beyond the constricting neighborhood of the known-comfortable, among landscapes ranging to the deep psychic, that many will appreciate most.






For the lead female protagonist of Clotho’s Loom, Nexus Wyrd, my preference would be for veteran actor Elisabeth Shue, most familiar in her youth from the Back to the Future franchise and Adventures in Babysitting, and nowadays CSI on television.

Nexus is about 40 years old, yet carries and births her first child in the course of the novel.  She also experiences many flashbacks, ranging from her college days to the recent past.  Abandoned by her husband, she is left very much on her own, and experiences major changes that we usually associate with people in their twenties.

For such a dynamic character, I needed someone who could play both naive and vulnerable, and tough enough later on to rebuild her shattered life, brick by brick, and defend her child from every peril.  A woman who could convincingly wield a 12 pound sledgehammer (no mean feat).  Also, attractive enough to draw the attentions of the main villain, Dr. M–.   The growing strength of my heroine needs to show in the athleticism of her body, but more, in the experience on her brow.


Casting Call: Main Characters–Heroine

Reading and Writing “Unsafe” Fiction


These days, grown men wear bicycle helmets. No one old enough to leave the house goes without a cell phone, and “insurance” can come with every item you purchase.  When someone wants to criticize you, they most often do it through two firewalls, three levels of encryption, and under a pseudonym. And whether it’s within the walls of a school where “bully” is a more feared word than “gun,” or 9,000 miles outside our borders, where our government spends billions to protect us from threats that may or may not even exist, things in 2012 have gotten pretty safe. It’s the inevitable cultural backlash from September 11, 2001 anxiety.

For creators and consumers of fiction, at least, things may be a little too safe. There was a time, only 200 years ago, when this was not at all the case–you wouldn’t dare admit, in decent company, to reading novels. They were’t good for you, because they weren’t true. But in 2012, all true, all plausible, nothing harmful. Like organic vegetables. Watch TV tonight: if someone is murdered, don’t worry. A dozen geniuses in bulletproof labcoats will expend every last resource of technology to ensure the killer spontaneously reveals himself before that 9th commercial break. So don’t worry–go buy something, tomorrow–and meanwhile, eat something.

There’s a lot of advice, in the new era of self-publishing, about writing what’s marketable (talk about fearsome words.) In sifting through the dozens and dozens of articles, one often encounters the encouragement to “create a backlist”–the idea being that, once readers trust you, know what they’re getting, they’ll likely return to draw from the well of your other works. As if the writing of several books could–or should– be done on a production-line basis. And yet, seminars even exist about how to author and self-publish an e-book in a month, a week, even a weekend.

Obviously, the kind of work produced under such severe time- and motive-constraints will have several quantifiable features: gimmicky (at best,) formulaic, cliche-ridden, dialogue as padding rather than in support of a tenable plot or serious character development. In a word, SAFE. Like the latest adolescent horror movie: no real surprises, but enough tricks (the “boo” shot, the flip-ending) and treats (naked breasts, or gratuitous gore, whichever you like) to keep you from asking for a refund.

Sure, literary history is full of examples of legitimate authors resorting to hack writing to keep body and soul together. Louisa May Alcott is a favorite example of mine, churning out much “sensational” fiction to support a large family, because her father couldn’t or wouldn’t, and in the end working herself literally to death. So I won’t go so far as to say there’s anything fundamentally wrong with mainstream fiction, television, and movies. They make money, and we all enjoy them at the odd time.

However, for those of us seeking to consume something better–moreover, seeking to create something better–can any of us be spared to write unsafely? What do I even mean by that?

Here are a few criteria. The unsafe fiction:

–attempts to use a vocabulary of more than 8,000 discrete words, including strong verbs and less-familiar synonyms

–employs sentence variety, and departs from the standard subject-verb-object (who did what to whom?) construction regularly, which requires more reader concentration

–does not overly rely on dialogue when narrative is called for

–invents a premise that is neither post-apocalyptic nor involves vampires (or similarly outworn devices)
–eschews the exploitation of human fears and perversity that defines 90% of American television programs (the culture of cop shows and freak shows)

–bothers to develop plausible backstories and motivations for its characters

–pays attention to relevant details while resisting the inclusion of irrelevant ones

–does not overtly or covertly support the culture’s dominant ideologies (consumer capitalism, cuthroat competition, uncritical jingoism, and adolescent individualism)–in addition to practicing casual and active sexism, which is very popular, or paying mere lip service against racism and homophobia–also very trendy right now

–occasionally experiments with its prose or concepts (to the extent that nothing is really new, what I mean here is that the author tries something unfamiliar to them, and which actually could fail)

–does not attempt to be all things to all people–that is, some readers might actually hate it. Ah, commercial volatility. Now we’re getting somewhere!

But don’t take my word for it. Come up with your own criteria.

C’mon, writers, teachers, bloggers–it’s October. What’s really scary? (If you think the answer is “wasting your time,” don’t forget what’s also looming, and that’s reading season). Try something that is not a sure thing. Knock on the old, crazy lady’s door. It’s not as if there’s a very fine line between what’s sensible and what’s utterly reckless, though our cultural parents would love us to believe that. There’s a whole, long limb on that tree outside your window. The wind may have picked up, and the clouds threaten rain. But winter is not here, yet.


Quiz: Top Ten Incarnations of the Devil in Film and Literature


Probably should be Top 100, because a lot of great portrayals (like the ones in my photos) didn’t make the list.

Apropos of the “Casting Calls” for Villains lately here on the Clotho’s Loom site, and in honor of this month in Autumn, culminating in the celebration of All Hallows’ Evening (Hallowe’en) on the 31st, I thought we’d pay homage to some great manifestations of evil, from creative minds in the West.  Calling it the “Top Ten” may be a little ego-maniacal of me–but let the form fit the content!

Try first to guess who uttered the famous line quoted (full credit-10 points), and if you’re stuck, take hints from my brief analysis below–but be careful: examples can be misleading–heh, heh (half-credit-5 points).  The answers are in the menu to the bottom left (of course).  Score yourself–how naughty are you?

BONUS for naming the films or characters in the photos (5 points each)!  PRIZE: Roll your hands and cackle in the self-satisfaction of knowing how much you rule over the cretins surrounding you! BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

Top Ten Incarnations of the Devil in Film and Literature

10. “Slugs! He created slugs. They can’t hear, they can’t speak, they can’t operate machinery. I mean, are we not in the hands of a lunatic? If I were creating a world, I wouldn’t mess about with butterflies and dafodils. I would have started with lasers, eight o’clock, day one.”

Second-guessing God is always a good sop for the feeling of helplessness that exiles live with. The flaws of creation are readily apparent, but it’s frustrating not to be included in the divine plan. Of course, that frustration has rarely been expressed so comically.

9. “That’s much too vulgar a display of power, Karras.”

Oh, the best don’t perform parlor tricks. They’re refined. You don’t run the show, they do. You don’t set the terms during bargaining. You don’t goad them into the silly spontaneous admissions of TV crime melodramas. A good trickster unrolls his hand, on his own terms. And then, it may have all the charm of projectile vomiting.

8. “It was between the brothers, Kay — I had nothing to do with it.”

Hanging on to a lost innocence that he traded away for power, lying to those who are still innocent to maintain appearances is the cold comfort this character takes.

7. “Who’s the fairest of them all?”

Beyond the obvious point that beauty is only skin deep, it’s amazing how vanity, ego, and pride make up a sizable percentage of all Western storytelling villainy. Thinking you’re better than everyone else around you–that’s a big step toward commiting heinous, ugly crimes. So ironically, beauty fades the more one values it. Also, the need for external validation–constant reassurance–of this villain, betrays a great deal of insecurity and fear.

6. “Closer, please. Closer.”

Like a coiled snake, all potential energy that can be unleashed in an instant, you’d better heed warnings not to approach him. Others have paid the price. He has about as much remorse about killing as a lethal carnivore, but his real pleasure is in the contemplation of the meal, going on behind his smiling, mesmerizing eyes.

5. “What’s the most you’ve ever lost on a coin toss?”

The scariest part of being verbally aggressed in a public place, like a bar-room, is not the physical size or menace of the antagonist (who is often not particularly imposing)–it’s knowing you’re suddenly confronted with someone who doesn’t acknowledge the rules, and therefore could do anything. After all, you’re in a public place of comradeship and celebration, not an arena.
The villain who utters these lines is a threat to all order, embracing chaos–he values human life as randomly as he destroys it–practically a force of nature, himself.

4. “You’re an errand boy, sent by grocery clerks, to collect a bill.”

He’s seen the triviality of the whole grand scheme of war, and tried to rise above it on angel’s wings. Like every soldier, his attempts to do good have brought him into proximity of the worst horror. No one keeps his hands clean in Vietnam.

3. “Sayest thou so?” replied ——, smiling apart. “Let us walk on, nevertheless, reasoning as we go; and if I convince thee not thou shalt turn back. We are but a little way in the forest yet.”

The age-old rhetoric of the tempter–“we haven’t done anything wrong, yet, and you can always change your mind later” is specifically designed as a logic-trap, to ridicule the intuition and fear we have built in. He’ll obscure the boundaries until you’ve already crossed them–and then it’s too late.

2. “Don’t make me destroy you.”

Denying responsibility for one’s own actions is built even into the speech patterns of some villains. Holding a gun to a hostage’s head, and claiming the policeman will be responsible if she dies, is clear psychological projection: unable to face himself, the villain sees evil in the world around him, and wreaks havoc upon it.

1. “Evil, be thou my good.”

Not numbered among the classical seven deadly sins is the master sin of all Judeo-Christian mythology: Despair. It’s tantamount to rejecting life itself. This character renounces all conventional morality, because he can’t be best at it. Rather, he’ll embrace a whole new system of his own concocting, and without the hypocrisy of justifying it under another name. He simply gives up on goodness. And with his power, that means Hell for the rest of us.


Disambiguation In Promoting Books of Literary Fiction; or, Publishing and Marketing Moby-Dick for the Masses


Imagine if Herman Melville were a self-published (Indie) author today, and had to compete in the ebook marketplace with his brand new novel, Moby-Dick. Not only are the electronic bookshelves of Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, and others crowded to overfull already, but he’s really relying mostly on the tactics of word-of-mouth, and of name recognition–he’s published a few well-received pieces already, though he’s no Longfellow. And let’s face it, his cover is not the greatest, anyway. So what would be your prediction?

If you guessed critical and commercial failure, I agree. And if you’ve taken more than the bare minimum of English courses in college, you probably already knew that’s exactly what happened in the 1850s. Melville’s masterpiece did not enjoy success until the 1920s–and I’m not sure how much good that did the author, as he was thirty years dead, at that point.

So. . .who here wants to write this decade’s Moby-Dick?

Dummy me, I kind of tried to.

Never mind the 1850s–think about now. What’s the problem? Melville’s novel is more than good–for those who have actually read it, you understand it’s so mind-blowingly great almost as to be in a class by itself. Right up there with John Milton’s Paradise Lost and the Odyssey of Homer.

Well, it’s just that, as a book marketer and seller, Melville made one hell of an author.

Think first about the title: not only is it a proper name, but, unlike say Charles Brockden Brown’s Edgar Huntly or Edgar Allan Poe’s William Wilson, it doesn’t even sound like the name of a person. Well, he chose accurately, anyway. So okay, taking a cue from those others, he adds a subtitle: the Whale (published in Great Britain under that title). So that’s one hurdle overcome, sort of. But since he can’t hover around the shelves of every bookshop from Nantucket to Paternoster Row, answering questions from potential buyers and readers, another problem arises.

What in the seven seas is the book about?

Well, it looks as if it’s about Whaling, we can hear the old spinster telling her sister, prowling among the stacks for their next guilty pleasure. How dreadful. (Today’s equivalent might be about Fossil Fuels.)

Of course, it’s about much more than that–has to be. It’s so deuced long.

So, our generous ladies crack the binding long enough to see the name-drop of Nathaniel Hawthorne in the dedication. Fine. A bit impertinent. Okay, give him a paragraph or two (here I’m invoking Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature.) Call me Ishmael.

Now, depending upon the edition, there may or may not be a footnote (today’s hyperlink) explaining the allusion of that name. Or, by chance, our sisters may be Bible-saavy enough to have vaguely remarked it. But who wants to go looking things up, even before purchase? Bah.

You can see where this is going.

So many authors are intent on writing good books, that they think little about marketing them until, the publishing industry not being a charity, they find themselves having to take on the role of bookseller. This is how Louisa May Alcott had to learn to sell—literary quality be damned–she had a family to support. It happened to me. And honestly, I’m not so much interested in selling everyone my book, as I am in simply making it visible to them. It sure isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and that’s cool. But I’d like potential readers to at least have the choice. “Never heard of it at all” is harder for me to take than “Not up my alley.” Because there should still be thousands out there whose alleys it is, er, up.

Which brings me to my own little production, Clotho’s Loom.

Start with covers, and titles. As I perambulate the aisles of my local, modern, and oversized brick-and-mortar bookseller (take a guess,) I don’t really see a section headed “Literary Fiction,” per se. There’s “Contemporary,” there’s “Fiction,” and there’s “Just Published,” and between them, if you already know an author’s name, you can find something to interest you. Otherwise, it’s choose by binding and title, an even dicier game than cover image. And what are those images? Near as I can tell, anyone with pretensions to highbrow fiction goes with a simple nature photograph. A farm, maybe, some wheat. Horses are good in the deep background. Trees and flowers. Look at all of Cormac McCarthy’s novels, for example. If you hadn’t heard of him, you’d think he was a cross between Ansel Adams and a park ranger. And how about that cover on The Road?–best thing since AC/DC’s debut album, Back in Black. So, at least the cover of Clotho’s Loom was taken outdoors–in Baltimore’s Druid’s Ridge Cemetery, in fact–though it’s of a statue, an object. Not exactly clear whom of, either. And the title names her, but. . .can I really put a footnote about Greek goddesses on the cover?

Open the book, reader, give it a shot. Okay. Well, there’s something going on here that’s trying to resonate. Decent vocabulary. Plenty of detail. A little slow. Nah–where’s that YA vampire section?

So now you know I wasn’t patting myself on the back with this comparison, because it’s not the author Melville I’m referring to, so much as the failed literary agent of Melville–like so many of us, that person happened to be, as Thoreau put it in another context, “our own scurvy selves.” Paradoxically (given the lurid subject matter,) the YA vampire books are safe—one knows, the talent bar fluctuating a bit, pretty much what one is getting. And you can spot them from 50 yards away.

What’s the solution, for the more ambitious of us? How do we find our readers?–How do they find us? Simple. But not easy. Disambiguation. Among works, yes. Also, within one work.

Moby-Dick is about whaling. But think harder. It’s also about. . .travel? Sure. Think about the characters, not just the plot and setting. Ah. . .revenge! Well done. Also, distinguish among the characters: why, there’s a philosopher, a pragmatist, an oracle–it’s a whole blessed microcosm! And look at their names. Ahab, Starbuck. Kinda go along with Ishmael. Keep going.

The 30-second elevator pitch is just not going to work for this one–or, to the extent that it does work, it only scratches the surface. But at least we have the beginnings of a list. Today, Melville could “tag” Moby with those. He could create a Listopias. They’d probably make concise tweets. And yet, will those be enough? Well, no, but they are a start.

Clotho’s Loom has two protagonists, a man and a woman: Will Wyrd and Nexus Wyrd (yeah, yeah, the names signify something.) They share equal stage time. He’s drafted to serve in the military overseas, while she, abandoned, must birth and raise their baby alone, amid the trials of a harsh environment–both home and workplace. That’s my standard line.

Already, the book proceeds along two very different plotlines, at intervals–though I tried to thematicaly parallel and even unify them. It also has action and suspense, male and female bonding, and a few philosophical conversations. Like a stew, as Huck Finn says: the juices swap around, and everything tastes better than the sum of separate ingredients. At least, that’s what the cook was going for. But it’s hardly disambiguated. Is it a military novel? A Jason Bourne clone? Or women’s cozy fiction? Both? REALLY?

I always tell my students: when a problem is too complex, you must analyze (break it down into smaller parts). This can be done in mathematics (as with factoring in algebra,) chemistry (using a tool like a centrifuge,) as well as in logic and rhetoric. It can always be done. What we need here is to know the ingredients–we need a recipe!

In recipe books and blogs, there’s usually a photo of the succulent end-product. But the real recipe always starts with components the cook has to buy and gather—not the tasting! Or, if you prefer another metaphor, we can “reverse engineer” our own books for simplification—very similar to the way Cliff’s Notes and SparkNotes work.

Dramatis Personae:

Will Wyrd, a 39-year old man, a former Marine sniper, now a college professor

Thalia, Will’s teacher and soldier for a Middle-East nation at war

Amad, Thalia’s brother

Colonel Mingo, U. S. officer in charge of reacquiring Will and other veterans

Jim Poland, an FBI agent

Nexus Wyrd, a 40-year old woman, a lawyer and, for undisclosed reasons, never before a mother

Dr. M–, her suitor, and successful capitalist

Thomas Wright, founder of the law firm employing Nexus

Mr.Domino, Wright’s partner

Sage, Nexus’ friend and guide

Dramatic Situation:

Will is “reactivated” (drafted) 20 years after his enlistment ends. But instead of complying, he flees the country and embarks on a mission to end the war his own way.

Meanwhile, Nexus discovers that she’s pregnant and must birth and raise the child amid much danger, both at home ,and in the workplace of her law firm.

Complication: the two, while compatible as mates, were not equipped for a successful marriage when they wed. How can the enforced separation prepare them better to reunite? (Here, no doubt about it, as I put it this way I see that I lifted the complication straight from the Odyssey.)

Elements: irony, foreshadowing, symbolism, allegory. As this is a blog post and not an actual handbook, I’ll stop here.

I think that’s plenty for any potential reader to go on.

CONCLUSION: 1) Authors of plain old fiction and genre fiction have two initial tiers of audience:

The primary audience tier: family, extended family, friends and colleagues.

The secondary audience tier: Potential readers who would love your book, but need to discover it as a better example of its kind.

2) Authors of literary fiction, unlike genre authors, have an additional tier:

The tertiary audience tier: those readers who would love your book, if only they knew how really profound it is, but more importantly, just what it was about.

For everyone without an established reputation, the primary audience will have acquired the book within a few months, leading to a sales slump, unless the author can “promote through” to the second tier. And I think all the blog posts, tweets, book tours, celebrity endorsement blurbs, trailers, and paid advertisements in the world will not be effective until the specific audiences for that story can be identified and targeted.

For authors of literary fiction, there’s no point in crying out how really great a writer you are. If you can gain discoverability, the issue of quality will take care of itself, as you accrue reviews and word gets around.

The remaining question: what is the book about? For real? As Ahab says, “STRIKE THROUGH the mask.” NOT—how great is it, what are its ephemeral trappings, what are its gimmicks, which famous person pretends to love it, where does one buy it and at what bargain price?

Moby-Dick is really the story about a ship’s captain who, having been crippled by his prey in the course of whaling, kidnaps an entire crew and enlists them in quest of a single beast, who he imagines to be the incarnation of all the world’s evil. He will sacrifice anything: men, money, and material to this egomaniacal pursuit of cosmic justice. Further, using the sea as a conceit, and by presenting the alternative reactions of members of the crew, Melville investigates a long list of philosophical questions regarding humankind’s relationship to the natural universe.

Clotho’s Loom is really the story of a man and woman who met and married before they were ready. They are torn apart just at the moment when they should most be together, her mid-life pregnancy. The next year is devoted to adventures that mature them, while they seek reunion. While all events, like Will’s military reactivation, appear to conspire against them, StJean questions whether the forces of chance and so-called Fate, as well as ignorant human will, are not actually working together for ultimate good.

Well, I never wrote it up like that before. Quite a shifting of priorities. And no longer ambiguous. The description also makes clearer who the best audiences are.

More on that, later.